We arrived in Krakow at 3pm and after making our way through the Airport, we were met by our taxi driver and set off to the hotel. We had booked to stay for four nights in the Qubus Hotel, which I cannot recommend enough. The Qubus Hotel is located perfectly on the bank of the Vistula River and next to the old town Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. The rooms were simple, yet comfortable, and were cleaned everyday to a high standard. Once we had unpacked our luggage, we walked to the Galeria Kazimierz shopping centre, which boasts one hundred and thirty shops. After a quick shop we wandered down to the Main Square, which is a site to behold, filled with 12th Century Gothic buildings and Krakow’s Cloth Hall.
Situated in the Old Town, the Main Square is the perfect place to be in ‘hub’ of Krakow. Being a fifteen minute walk from the Square meant that we spent a good portion of trip sitting in or wandering through it. The Square is surrounded by historical buildings and is home to St Mary’s Basilica and Krakow’s Cloth Hall. This was one of my favourite spots in Krakow as the architecture is simply stunning, and dates all the way back to the twelfth century. This is the perfect place for sight-seeing, people-watching, and sampling some of Krakow’s best eats (The food is great value for money, even on the Main Square…I know!)
St Mary’s Basilica
St Mary’s Basilica is quite possibly one of the most beautiful churches I have ever visited. Filled with gothic interior and the breathtaking craftsmanship of, the blue starred ceiling, alter, and stain glass windows, it is more than worth a visit. The altarpiece was handcrafted by German artist, Veit Stoss, in the fifteenth century. However, during the Nazi occupation the altar was dismantled and taken back to Germany and hidden, ten years later it was returned to Poland.
If you find yourself in the Main Square, every hour a bugle will sound from the highest tower. The bugle plays but ends abruptly, and legend has it that this is because a watchman had spotted enemy forces approaching, so sounded the alarm, but was killed by an arrow to the throat.
Tickets can be purchased at a booth across the road and you will need a separate ticket to take photos, which is definitely worth it.
If you know me and my boyfriend, then you know we like to try and cram a zoo trip into any place we visit, and Krakow was no exception. Krakow Zoo is located in the middle of a forest, yup you read that right. We took a bus from the Cracovia Stadion to the zoo, which took fifteen minutes total and we were driven right up to the zoo. If you decide to hire a car and drive to Krakow zoo, the car park is lower down, so you will have a very long walk up a steep hill to make! Once at the zoo we paid for two tickets coming to 36PLN equalling to just £8, which is amazing value.
I was really impressed with the zoo, the animals looked happy; their environment was clean and well tended to, as were the other facilities within the zoo. There are lots of animals to see, even some we had never heard of. There are a couple of places around the zoo to grab snacks; this was a little harder for me as I am a pescatarian, so I opted for the Polish delicacy of a zapiekanka. A zapiekanka is an open faced toasted sandwich made of half a baguette or bread roll, topped with mushrooms, cheese and ketchup and other ingredients if you wish. I have to admit, I was a big fan of the zapiekanka, I mean who doesn’t love toasted sandwiches? Only this one was practically the size of my arm.
We decided to walk back from the Cracovia Stadion and go along the Vistula River. Although we didn’t get the opportunity, you can take cruises along the river. Our hotel offered free Q-Boat cruises along the river every hour which last around twenty five minutes. This is one thing I wish we could have crammed in, but is an incentive to return!
Wawel Castle/ Dragons Den & Sandomierska
On the walk up to the castle you will pass a mini walk of fame, featuring the handprints of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tim Roth, Michael Jackson and many more. We arrived at the castle at 3pm so only tickets for the Dragons Den & Sandomierska Tower were available, which we were more than happy with. We visited the Sandomierska Tower first, which is one of the castles two artillery towers. The tower was built in the 1400’s and was designed to strengthen defence, house firearms and artillery, served as guards quarters or a prison. For just 4PLN you can climb the towers one hundred and thirty seven steps and see views of Krakow like no other.
We then made our way to the Dragons Den which is a legendary cave within Wawel Hill. The legend tells of a dragon, Smok, who roamed the tunnels within the cave, which each week needed to eat a fixed number of cattle. If the city dwellers could not provide the number of cattle required, the dragon would punish them by taking the equivalent number of human heads. The legend goes onto tell of King Cracus, who called upon his sons to help with ridding the town of the dragon. The ending I won’t spoil, and also because it has changed over time, but it is worth a read if you have the time. We saved this until last as the exit of the caves takes you back onto the river bank below, where you will find a bronze statue of the dragon Smok. In total it cost 14PLN so just under £6 each.
Auschwitz I & Auschwitz Birkenau
On our last day we had pre booked a tour to visit both Auschwitz camps. In total it cost us seventy seven euro online for transport their and back and our guided tour. Although you do not have to take a guided tour, you can take a bus from the bus station and visit the camps without a guide. I’m really glad we went with a guided tour, as I found it to be extremely informative, and our guide really took her time explaining everything and was very patient with the group. It is really difficult to put the experience into words; words that I feel will never do it justice. It really is just a place everyone should visit, remember and learn from. Nothing will change your outlook more.
It is important to visit both camps, as Auschwitz I was the first camp built, followed by Auschwitz Birkenau. Both are harrowing, but I found Birkenau the more chilling of the two. Our guide reinforced this by saying that in terms of sleeping conditions, survivors had said that Auschwitz I was like a five star hotel compared to Birkenau. Needless to say both are eerie and will leave you with a heavy heart.
Where We Ate/Drank
Hard Rock Cafe
An obvious choice, but one that is not to be missed! We ate here on our first night as it is situated in the Main Square. We were lucky enough to be seated by the window which overlooks the whole of the square. Like all Hard Rocks it has a great atmosphere, lovely food, and yummy cocktails!
Please bear with me. This find was to the right of the Main Square and in a prime spot for people watching. We sat outside, despite it being quite an overcast day, but the restaurant had outdoor heaters and blankets for the ultimate hygge feel. The staff were lovely and attentive and the food was very nice and reasonably priced.
This was a find on our way into the Main Square. The lighting is dimmed and candles are dotted around the tables, again the cosiness levels are at max in Krakow! We really wanted to try some local delicacies, so we opted for dumplings and polish cheesecake, which were amazing! One thing I was slightly disappointed about was the soup, it came served in a traditional bread bowl, however they only served meat options so that was a no-go for me.
The surroundings of this restaurant are beautiful, if you get the chance head straight through to the back of this restaurant and sit in the garden area. Mostly renowned for its steaks and burgers (and no vegetarian option burger-wise), I thought I was going to be stealing chips from my boyfriends plate. Luckily, they did have fish options, although only two, and aside from that it would have been salad. I know, I know, if you go to a steakhouse what do you expect? But a couple more options would have earned the place a couple more bonus points.
I’ve always wanted to go to Oktoberfest in Germany, but haven’t quite got round to it yet. However, we found a bar/restaurant that had an Oktoberfest atmosphere, with the staff dressed in traditional Dirndl dresses and one litre beers are served. We had eaten at the Grande Grill before this, so we just had one of the infamous large beers each. Needless to say, we were there awhile and I think we made it two minutes down the road before we got a taxi!
Moo Steak & Burger Club
We went here on our last night as it was my boyfriend’s birthday. So how did I fare here I here you ask? Well there was not a veggie burger in site, only fish and salad options again, have I not learnt by now? Although it was his birthday, so his choice, so I opted for a feta salad with a side order of chips. I really enjoyed it, so much so, I’ve been making it for dinner since we got back, plus it’s an excuse for me to eat more olives (like I need one).
If you’re looking for a city-break that will keep you busy but also keep some money in your pocket then Krakow is the one for you. The food and drink is ridiculously inexpensive, and such great value for the taste and what you get. You really do get more for your money. The city caters to everyone, having everything from great shopping centres, history, the ultimate foodie cuisine, scenery and so much more to explore. There are a few things we did not manage to fit in whilst we were there, but we left knowing we would certainly be heading back there one day.
If you do have any recommendations of must-sees in Krakow please let me know! Also where are some other great locations for city breaks?